Have you switched to Facebook or checked the score of your favourite sports just before starting an important, though unpleasant, assignment from your school?
Have you stared at the blank screen of your laptop for long and then moved to something else when writing the first few paragraphs of the paper due next week?
Have you enjoyed planning and brainstorming sessions a lot, but pushed deadlines when it came to execution?
We all have fallen to these when starting out on an important task, and wondered, “How can I move my butt, and then not quit?
“How can I overcome procrastination?”
Procrastination is widespread among students, with its ill effects all too well known. According to this study, more than 32% university students rate procrastination a major problem and only 1% say they’ve never procrastinated.
Related post: How Procrastination Wasted My Two Weeks?
What’s procrastination and why students procrastinate?
Watch this (duration: 1:20 minutes).
This is procrastination.
In simple words, it’s filling your day with what you like doing and not with what you should be doing, despite knowing that it’s bad and it’ll build up stress. What’s worse is most students procrastinate on their most important tasks.
Note, happy/ fun time is the longest. Haven’t you experienced this?
Come-on, we all have!
Ideally, the more the pending work, the less you should procrastinate, and hence inversely-proportional relationship. But, what do we do in reality?
We procrastinate more if the pending work is more.
Well, don’t take the equation seriously; it’s just a way to represent the way we procrastinate.
Piers Steel, an eminent researcher on procrastination and author of the book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, cites impulsiveness as the prominent reason for procrastination. The more impulsive you are, the more likely you are to jump to other tasks, leaving important ones pending. And students, who are still building their willpower muscles, are more likely to be impulsive and hence procrastinate.
Different ways you procrastinate
Do you face one or more of following situations frequently?
“I’m feeling tired at the moment. Let me start the work tomorrow morning.”
“Let me read more on this topic, before I start writing the paper. I want my paper to be the best.” And then you go on a long reading drive, even reading things which aren’t relevant to the task at hand.
Are you checking emails or surfing Facebook feeds several times while working on an important, but unpleasant, task?
Do you start your to-do list with low-priority tasks because you find them easy to accomplish, and then get a sense of accomplishment by striking off lot of items within few hours into the day, even though the most important ones are still untouched?
Is an important item hanging in your to-do list for several days?
When working on an unpleasant task, do you take a break for 5 minutes but stretch it to much longer?
If yes, then you know the answer – you procrastinate.
Ill effects of procrastination on students
Procrastination delays your most important tasks, and, perforce, you’ve to complete the task in a much shorter period in order to meet the deadline, resulting in not just poor understanding of the subject but also stress.
In one of the first studies on effects of procrastination, Dianne Tice and Roy Baumeister, then at Case Western Reserve University, tracked academic performance, stress, and general wellbeing of college students over a semester. They found that procrastinators seemed to have less stress than others in the short term as they postponed important stuff and did pleasurable things. In the end, however, the ill effects of procrastination were apparent: procrastinators earned lower grades and had higher levels of stress and illness.
And when it becomes a habit, it may result in negative effects such as depression, irrational behaviour, low self-esteem, anxiety, and poor study habits.
So, how to beat procrastination when studying?
It’s completely within your reach, and if you want you can do it. Here are some of the steps you may follow:
Is there an escape?
Most procrastinate on unpleasant or difficult tasks. If that’s the case with you, ask yourself, “Is there an escape from it.”
You got the answer! If there is no escape, then embrace it. The sooner you do it, the better it is.
And once into the task, more often than not, you’ll realize that it’s less scary than you thought. To quote Steel:
The problem with a goal we’re avoiding is that we’ve already built into our minds how awful it’s going to be. So it’s like diving into a cold pool: the first few seconds are terrible, but soon it feels great.
If it’s an unpleasant or difficult task, it’s not just you’ll be shying away from it. Others will be equally petrified. And the few who take it on despite their fears will be the ones who’ll stand apart.
Embrace that difficult task and you’ll have an edge over many, many others.
Don’t push too hard in one go
Because most tasks we procrastinate are tough or unpleasant, it isn’t easy to continue for long without getting exhausted. Steel, for example, advocates short, specific targets as one of the measures to overcome procrastination.
It may take long if you’re doing it the first time, but if you get something similar the next time, it’ll be quicker. Everyone has to go through those first-time slow processes before they become better and quicker the next time.
Break big tasks into smaller sub-tasks
When a task seems overwhelming, you tend to procrastinate. In such cases, divide it into smaller, manageable sub-tasks. For example, if you’ve to write an 8,000 word paper, aim to write, say, just 400 words a day. And if you’ve to solve 500 multiple-choice practice questions, just do 25 a day.
How you can make your to-do list work?
Most to-do lists don’t work.
Let me ask this: at the end of the day, how many important tasks you’re able to complete on a regular basis?
And not the number of items struck off in the list. Ultimately, what drives your performance is the quality of tasks completed, and not the items checked off.
If you’re like most, you yearn for completion bias: starting with easy-to-do stuff to get the psychological boost of completing few items in a short span of time. Francisco Gino, Harvard Business School professor who has been studying completion bias and its effect on productivity, says:
One of the main reasons this happens is that human brains are wired to seek completion and the pleasure it brings — a tendency we term “completion bias.” Completing simple tasks, such as answering emails or posting updates on your Twitter account, takes little time and allows you to check off items on your to-do list.
You fall prey to completion bias despite knowing that you should instead be working on something else, something that’s important.
The best way to control this bad habit is to decide the night before which 2 or 3 important items you’ll absolutely accomplish the next day without any excuse. And if you’ve to do some prior foundation work, say some research, for these tasks, do it the previous night itself, so that you start the next morning straightaway with items.
This is one of the surest ways to get rid of procrastination when studying.
Moreover, frontloading difficult tasks (important are usually unpleasant, difficult) in the day will also mean that you take on these tasks when (morning) you’re at your peak energy and concentration in the day.
Avoid perfection, if not required
Joseph Ferrari, a leading international researcher on procrastination and author of the book Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done, says:
It is very helpful and useful to gather information to make an informed decision, but when one simply continues to gather beyond the point of adequate resources, then they are being indecisive and the waiting is counterproductive.
Avoid perfection, if not required.
Are you reading too many articles to write that paper? Are you gathering too much information before starting your college application? There is no end to perfection, and often times it’s not even required.
To quote Joseph Ferrari again:
Today’s technology can help us not procrastinate if we use it wisely. We don’t have to surf the Web for hours on irrelevant tasks. We can get systems that time us out after 10 minutes. We don’t have to have a Blackberry with us at all times. Use technology as a tool, not as a means of delay.
Make access to common distractions difficult. If you can’t resist the temptation to check your inbox, ping your friends on social media, or surf internet, use applications such as Freedom (paid service) to completely block internet access or use StayFocused chrome extension to block specific websites for certain period of time or bury your phone in some corner. This will help you avoid jumping back and forth between your work and these distractions.
Reset your day mid-day
Post-lunch, assess how much you’ve accomplished and will you be able to complete the work in the remainder of the day. If you’re lagging, take a nap (counterintuitive it may seem under the circumstances, but it can work wonders to your energy level and efficiency for the rest of the day), have a cup of coffee, and come back to your tasks with greater intent. You can still rescue the day.
And if you want to make it a habit, then set a buzzer for certain time of the day, say 1 PM, to remind yourself of this review exercise.
If you show some steel, some determination and follow the above steps, you can certainly beat procrastination in your school/ college work, if not completely get rid of it.
You can’t achieve anything worthwhile without getting things (that matter) done. You may take shortcuts, but they won’t take you far; sooner or later, you’ll have to face the reality. That’s the bottom-line.
Almost everyone procrastinates, degree varying of course. But those who can control (it’s difficult to eliminate) it are the ones who take a giant step in standing apart.
You, too, can control procrastination. It’s not easy, but can be done.
Flip your mindset. Follow the seven steps. Initially, you’ll have to push yourself, but once you start getting things done, it’ll get easier.
Question: How have you battled procrastination? What are some of the methods you’ve used to get moving?